Thomas, we are told, was not really a name but an epithet, meaning, like its Greek equivalent Didymus, “the twin.” David Smith suggests that the apostle’s name was Judas, but that he was named “the twin” to distinguish him from Judas, the son of James, and Judas Iscariot. Tradition credits him with the authorship of a gospel which is included in apocryphal literature.
Zealous, inquisitive and incredulous, he earned the title of “Thomas the Doubter.” Because of his hesitancy in accepting the disciples’story of the Resurrection of Christ, Thomas has come down through the centuries as a typical pessimist and sceptic. But was he an habitual doubter? Some authorities suppose that the name Didymus alluded to his doubting propensities, since some versions render it as “doubleminded.”
Had we only the record of the first three gospels, Thomas would be to us simply a name, but John rescued him from oblivion, made him a reality to us and surrounded him with an undying interest. Tradition has it that he died a martyr.
Three traits seem to stand out in John’s cameo of Thomas:
I. When he saw what he ought to do, nothing kept him back. When Jesus expressed his intention of going into Judea again, Thomas urged the disciples to accompany Christ even though it might mean death (John 11:16).
II. When he saw what he ought to do, he only wanted to see how he was to do it. At the Last Supper he acknowledged his ignorance of the place the Lord was going to and asked how he could know the way (John 14:5).
III. When he saw what it was he had to believe, he only wanted to see that it was right, and then to him there was no help for it. After our Lord’s resurrection Thomas refused to believe in its reality except upon conditions which he himself laid down. How stirring was his confession of faith once convinced of the Resurrection (John 20:28; 21:2).